Sunday, February 28, 2021

AOC promoting mistaken inauguration history

By Mathew Goldstein

UPDATE: The AOC presidential inaugurations web page has been corrected.

The Architect of the Capitol web site describes itself as “Serving Congress and the Supreme Court”. It aspires to “Integrity - We demonstrate our honesty, sincerity and dependability to earn the trust of those we serve.” It also self-exhibits “Professionalism - We adhere to the highest standards of quality and competency for the work that we do.” The AOC “erects the inaugural platform ... and coordinates other activities with the Joint Congressional Committee on the Inaugural Ceremonies ...”

The AOC presidential inaugurations page lists in three columns the date, the president, and notes. The notes say this about Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration: “The only President not sworn in on a Bible." Absent eyewitness testimony to support the claim that each of the prior presidents used a bible during their oath of office, any declaration that Theodore was the first, let alone the only, who did not, as if we know that all presidents before him did use a bible, is falsely misleading. Such a declaration, when stated as a fact, exhibits a lack of integrity and professionalism. Since we have no eyewitness testimony for the presence a bible at George Washington’s second inauguration, nor at the inaugurations of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson (twice), James Madison (twice), and James Monroe (twice), any claim that only one president did not use a bible or that any particular president after George Washington was the first to not use a bible is necessarily mere speculation, regardless of who makes that claim.

Here is my understanding of what it can be said we know: George Washington placed his hand on, and then kissed, a bible at the first presidential inauguration to comply with New York State law because that inauguration was uniquely administered by a state government [Laws of the State of New York: Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777-1801, Volume 1, Ch. 25,]. When he became president the federal executive and judicial branches existed only on paper and the first Congress had not yet passed any bills so the only applicable law was state law. Andrew Jackson kissed a bible. There appears to be no eyewitness evidence that any other president from George Washington’s second inauguration to John Tyler used a bible to swear the oath upon. John Quincy Adams read his oath from a book of law without a bible at his ceremony in 1825 (March 4, 1825 diary entry by John Q. Adams).

Bibles were usually present starting at the 1861 inauguration of Lincoln, except for Theodore Roosevelt who used no book for his first inauguration in 1901. However, there was no bible present during Calvin Coolidge’s impromptu oath of office at his father’s farmhouse in 1923. Although it is widely reported that John F. Kennedy used a bible during his 1961 oath of office, for most of his oath recitation his left hand was actually resting at his side not touching the Bible.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of several presidents whose hand was not on a bible during the oath recitation and who did not kiss a bible. Furthermore, for all we know, George Washington may have been first president to not use a bible and Theodore Roosevelt may have been the fourteenth president to recite the oath of office without a bible (other than Jackson and Polk, all presidents to James Buchanan is thirteen). But you would never know this if you trusted the AOC as an expert source of presidential oath information, which is a shame because they are supposed to be experts. If we cannot rely on experts then who are we supposed to rely on to understand our history? My message to the AOC: Do not assert as historical fact that which is not evidenced and is counter-evidenced. Remove the assertion that all presidents except Theodore Roosevelt took their oath of office on bibles.